College Daze: It’s finals time!

(Photo: DY, 2013)

(Photo: DY, 2013)

With Thanksgiving in the rear view mirror, college students across America are studying for final exams and writing term papers. Even with the onslaught of technology over the decades, the ritual of gearing up for end-of-semester tasks remains largely the same. And for the procrastinators, it’s truly crunch time: That which has been ignored cannot be any longer.

Our late night “study hall”

I recall those days as an undergraduate at Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana very well. My favorite study hangout was the dining room of the Brandt Hall dorm where I lived. After the dinnertime meal service was over, it was kept open as a sort of impromptu study hall. Around finals time, several dozen students could be found reading, writing, and typing (on real typewriters, by the way) into the wee hours. Oh, there was plenty napping and chatting (often of the gallows humor variety) as well, not to mention late night coffee, sodas, and snacks courtesy of area donut shops and convenience stores.

My roommate, a super conscientious pre-med major, was not given to dining room studying. He spent his study hours at his desk or in the library. We’d usually watch the monologue of the Johnny Carson Show, after which he’d hit the hay. By contrast, my study day had just begun. Off I’d go to the dining room so he could get some sleep.

Come to think of it, the most self-disciplined students often avoided late nights in the Brandt Hall dining room. Those who joined us there rarely pulled all-nighters; it wasn’t necessary. Especially at finals time, the post-midnight shift in the dining room was largely the province of those of us who had put off those pesky term papers and heavy-duty reading assignments.

Beyond Brandt Hall

In these days before personal computers, having access to a typewriter was necessary for churning out those papers. I had a Smith-Corona electric typewriter, which I’d lug back and forth from my dorm room to the dining room.

But during my last two years of college, I worked as an editor of the college newspaper, The Torch. And in The Torch offices were two IBM correcting Selectric typewriters. IBM Selectrics were the Cadillacs of typewriters. Not only were they fast, but also they could correct errors without swapping out a cartridge or using Liquid Paper to paint over mistakes! For typing long seminar papers, the Selectrics were gifts from heaven.

During my senior year, some friends and I hatched a plan that would surely propel us to epic levels of academic concentration. We would drive into Chicago, thus removing ourselves from the usual campus distractions, and study at the public library there. So we piled into my gas guzzling Buick and made way for the Windy City.

We made the trip, but alas, we found new distractions — Chicago is quite festive around the holidays — and returned late that night with little to show in terms of productivity. Scratch one Saturday. So back to the Brandt Hall dining room for this guy.


Is it any wonder that I still experience academic anxiety dreams? You know, those dreams in which it’s the end of the semester, and you suddenly realize there’s a class you haven’t attended, studied for, or even thought of, for that matter. As in, The Class You Completely Blew Off??? Panic ensues when you can’t even remember the course title — though for me, it’s usually some vague heavy science or math class. Then, thank goodness, I usually wake up and realize, gratefully, that it was a dream.

Well, enough reminiscing; time to get back to work. I’m on the other side of this realm now, and facing me are two large piles of term papers that I haven’t jumped into yet. I’d better get moving, because in two weeks I’ll have the final exams to grade as well. ‘Tis the season!

4 responses

  1. Your last paragraph makes me happy to be a RETIRED college prof! And I still have those dreams, too . . . 😉

    1. Ah Kerry, but don’t you miss grading papers and exams? 🙂

  2. Dave – I still have those dreams once in a while! I also have the ones where I have lost the paper copy (the only kind we had) of my schedule and I don’t know what class I have next or which building it is in! Yes, I am relieved to realize I am only dreaming! I wonder what it is that makes us fabricate those fears in our dreams? I never had that happen in reality – why in my dreams? For a looong time after graduation, I started to get nervous in December and May ….. eventually I realized that my body “remembered” the stress of those weeks before finals. Weird!

    P.S. I had a MANUAL typewriter! One summer I worked in a factory that made parts for the Selectric! When I got my job at Northwestern Mutual, I had one at my desk until I got my WANG! I was in heaven with the built in correction feature – ah, technology!

    Sent from my iPad

    1. Anne, I’ve never had the missing schedule version of the dream! I guess because in real life, had that happened I probably would’ve skipped the class ’til next time…

      But I do understand the end-of-semester anxieties. It took me a while to lose them once I started teaching — I think I was picking up on my students’ anxieties. But now my anxieties shift to the procrastination over grading what they give me.

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